Familiar to many from roles in Channel 4’s Misfits, Netflix’s Lovesick, and US medical drama The Good Doctor, Antonia Thomas is one of the UK’s leading TV actresses. Her innate poise and grace, combined with hard-work and rigorous training at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, have set her on a natural path to success. Over the course of her career, we’ve watched her slip under the skin of a diverse mix of characters — and even flex her musical talents in musical Sunshine on Leith and a recent collaboration with Robin French’s Sugarcane Band.
However, beyond her various on-screen personas, what do we really know about Antonia Thomas, the real-life woman? In order to get some answers, we sat down with the multi-talented creative to find out what makes her tick: from her greatest inspiration, to how she gets into character for a new role.
Who are the people who inspire you?
There are many people who inspire me but the main person is my mother. She came from Jamaica to England in the 60s as a 10-year-old girl with nothing, not even a coat. She lived in Yorkshire, overcame the extreme racism of the time, kept her head down and studied hard. First she became a nurse and worked her way up in the NHS before moving to London. On having children she decided to change tact, studied and again earning a degree in Psychology. Last month she finally retired but not before being made head of Psychology at St Thomas’ Hospital one of our leading London hospitals. As a woman of colour, with doors constantly being closed in her face, she persevered anyway and has had a glittering career as well as being a wonderful mother. I am in awe of her and her strength to succeed.
You attended the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School – do you think drama school is a necessary step for those who wish to pursue acting?
I’m not sure it is necessary as I have many actor friends who are extremely successful and they never attended drama school, but it certainly helps and those actors who did it without are perhaps in the minority.
The reason it’s great is that drama school equips you with a starter tool kit that helps you win roles and develop characters but I have arguably learnt as much, (if not more!) outside of drama school actually doing it, as I did when I was studying.
One of the most useful things, if you can get into one of the leading drama schools, is that it gives you a platform to showcase your talents to industry professionals – agents, casting directors etc which you might find much harder to do if you decide to try without it. Without drama school I’m not sure I would be where I am now, but that is just my story.
How do you prepare for a role?
Well each character requires a different approach but something I always do at the beginning of my preparation is ask myself a list of character questions, that I have to develop answers to, that help me get into the mind-set of the new character. Once I have made my way through those questions I have a better understanding of who that character might be. It’s a good starting off point from which I can then flesh out the role.
Many of our readers will first have seen you in the drama Misfits what was your experience like on the show?
It was incredible. The steepest learning curve and the most joyous time. Working with such wonderful creatives was a complete blessing and I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my career.
You were cast in Misfits directly after leaving drama school — what was that transition like? How did you cope with the pressures of booking such a big job so early on in your career?
It was terrifying and exciting. I had spent drama school in a predominantly classical training. We had a tiny introduction to screen technique but not much. I was very much in the deep end but I was working with wonderful people who guided me and supported me. I tried to block out my worries of being out of my comfort zone and focused on the work and the character. And in the end I had the time of my life.
Viewers next saw you in Sunshine on Leith, which is obviously so different in both tone and format to Misfits. What drew you to the project?
I have always wanted to use my singing in my acting work. I originally had thought that musical theatre was what I wanted to go in to but realised acting was more my forte. So to be presented with an opportunity to combine the two was a real gift.
The Proclaimers’ music is so much fun and the team of actors and creatives on board were fabulous. I was very excited to work with them all. And again we had an absolute riot.
You had a starring role in the Netflix series Lovesick. How does working on a Netflix project differ to working on something for network TV?
Netflix series work is more like a cable model, by which I mean you make much fewer episodes than network TV. We made 8 episodes of Lovesick a series and 18 for The Good Doctor. Because there are fewer episodes they tend to be written before you start work so you know your character’s arc before you get to set. With The Good Doctor you get each episode as you go along. So preparing the two roles has been a very different experience.
That leads us onto my next question. Most recently, we’ve seen you in The Good Doctor, a US production. How has the transition to US television been?
It has been thrilling. I have wanted to work in the US for a long time and so I feel so lucky to be on a show that people seem to be enjoying so much. I thought that maybe the work would feel very different to the way that we do it at home, but all the fundamentals are the same. At first I was nervous but everyone has been so welcoming. When the writing is as good as it is on The Good Doctor, going to work every day is a joy.
Given the medical premise of the show, did you have to do any extra preparation or research for your role as Claire?
I definitely read some books about people that work in the medical field – one in particular was brilliant – ‘Do no harm’ by Henry Marsh. It really gives you a rounded insight into the psyche of someone who is in the business of trying to save lives. I also talked to some doctors I knew and went into an operating theatre to witness a real operation, which was amazing.
What projects have you got in the pipeline?
All things I can’t talk much about unfortunately. Some acting opportunities bubbling away and I am also in the process of developing some of my own work – writing and producing wise. I have definitely got to the point in my career where I want to be a part of the creative decisions being made.
The Good Doctor airs on Tuesdays at 9pm on Sky Witness and can be streamed on NOW TV
Images by Michael Shelford